Imagine that the next time your doctor orders a round of tests, in addition to cholesterol and vitamin D, she also orders a genome sequence. It sounds like science fiction, but the day might come sooner than you think.
Precision medicine—in which each patient’s prevention and treatment decisions are tailored for them—has been a buzzword in the health care industry recently. President Barack Obama launched his Precision Medicine Initiative, and other countries have similar projects underway.
With concerns about the cost of health care, though, can we afford precision medicine?
In certain instances, precision medicine can actually save money. For example, if patients can be screened for drug hypersensitivity before being prescribed certain drugs, they won’t have to be treated later, which is better for patients and cuts down on costs. A similar approach works for choosing treatments.
“When you use a therapy to target only the individuals who will benefit, you avoid wasting drugs or other resources on people who you know won’t get any benefit, and who might actually be harmed,” said David Threadgill, Ph.D., professor and holder of the Tom and Jean McMullin Chair of Genetics at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and director of the Texas A&M Institute for Genome Sciences and Society.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. “Whether the economics works out in favor of precision medicine depends on two things: the difficulty and the cost of finding the best candidates who will benefit from specific, tailored treatments,” said Robert L. Ohsfeldt, Ph.D., health economist and professor in the Department of Health Policy & Management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health. “You have to know a lot about the disease process and how individual characteristics—genetics and environmental factors like diet or exposure to toxins—mediate the treatment response.”
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